Tuesday, June 19 , 2018, 11:38 am | A Few Clouds 65º


Local News

Jesusita Fire: South Coast Warily Watching One Fire on Two Fronts

Favorable conditions overnight help crews battle the 8,700-acre blaze, which is now 30 percent contained

Bracing for the night ahead, and keeping in mind what one official said of Thursday night when “all hell broke loose,” fire officials had warned Santa Barbara residents that high winds could be in store for Friday night as well.

Friday evening’s news conference was greeted by cool temperatures and higher humidity, which had been absent throughout the 4-day-old Jesusita Fire. But sundowner winds and relative humidity in the single digits could be on the horizon. Forecasts indicated conditions would be slightly more favorable Friday night, but authorities said earlier in the day that they weren’t taking any chances. “Our folks are working their hearts out,” said Cal Fire Incident Cmdr. Joe Waterman, who called Thursday night a “worst-case scenario.”

A massive DC-10 air tanker worked through the night, which joined 12 fixed-wing aircraft and 15 helicopters earlier Friday. More than 4,000 firefighters are battling the 8,700-acre blaze, which was stubbornly burning in two directions but also edged higher into Los Padres National Forest. At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the blaze was 30 percent contained. Officials are expecting full containment by Wednesday.

At least 30,000 residents have been displaced by the wildfire, with 18,000 of them coming in a span of about five hours Thursday night. Unconfirmed reports say as many as 80 homes may have been destroyed, and officials estimate it has cost $4.3 million to battle the blaze.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for a 12-mile-long swath of land that stretched from Hot Springs Road on the east to Patterson Avenue on the west, north of Highway 192 in the east and roughly following Alameda Padre Serra to the vicinity of the Santa Barbara Mission to Constance Avenue to State Street west to Highway 101. The upper boundary is Camino Cielo, East and West, and includes Painted Cave.

View Evacuation Areas 05/07 8:30pm in a larger map

At 12:30 p.m. Friday, the evacuation warning area was expanded to include much of the Samarkand neighborhood between De la Vina and State streets, Las Positas Road and the freeway. Also under a new warning was the area between Milpas Street, the freeway, San Ysidro Road, East Camino Cielo and the eastern mandatory evacuation area. The western warning area was holding steady at Fairview Avenue between Highway 101 and West Camino Cielo.

Friday evening, Sheriff Bill Brown said it would be unlikely that evacuees would be allowed to return to their homes. He said he understands the inconvenience, and that officials are “in a constant state of discussion about repopulation.” But he said that the joint command will not take any chances by repopulating neighborhoods early. He advised residents in the evacuation warning areas to be prepared to leave on a moment’s notice, or sooner if they feel threatened.

A new face in the now familiar cadre was Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Wallace. The fire has rapidly expanded towards Montecito in the past 24 hours, and Wallace said that if the sundowners and extreme winds do materialize, “we’re going to be in big trouble in Montecito.”

Cautious optimism was blown away by fierce 40 mph winds Thursday night as the Jesusita Fire surged west, forcing authorities to keep extending evacuated areas as the flames burned past each boundary, including Highway 154. The densely populated San Roque neighborhood was one of the areas ordered cleared.

On the fire’s eastern flank, spectacular flames lit up the sky on the ridgeline high above West Mountain Drive east of Gibraltar Road. The fire was burning east, above where the Tea Fire raged through the Montecito foothills in November. Early Friday, no homes appeared in imminent danger but embers swirling in heavy winds had ignited a handful of spot fires on West Mountain near Sycamore Creek Lane. A Ventura County Search & Rescue team was on the scene.

Late Thursday, lower San Roque Canyon was the scene of a fierce firefight when flames exploded near the Lauro Reservoir, where helicopters had been refilling their water tanks since the fire began. As flames moved toward the Foothill Road bridge spanning the canyon over Stevens Neighborhood Park, eyewitnesses told Noozhawk that firefighters stationed on and below the bridge were able to stop the fire in its tracks, preventing it from accessing the heart of San Roque.

Apologizing for resorting to a cliche, interim Santa Barbara fire Chief Andrew DiMizio said Friday morning that the only way to describe the previous night was “all hell broke loose.”

Christie Teich, a Direct Relief International volunteer, helps the organization distribute free masks Friday outside the Goleta Valley Community Center.
Christie Teich, a Direct Relief International volunteer, helps the organization distribute free masks Friday outside the Goleta Valley Community Center. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Hours earlier, Brown called the Jesusita Fire “the worst emergency our county has faced in 25 years” in terms of resources used, rapidly changing conditions and the number of personnel battling the blaze. In addition to the flames, firefighters have been confronting extreme heat in the low 100s, very low humidity and powerful, unpredictable winds raging in all directions.

For Martha Lannan, who lives north of Cathedral Oaks Road, a mile and a half west of Highway 154, it was an eerie sense of deja vu.

“I was downtown when I saw this huge plume of smoke heading west,” said Lannan, who was forced to evacuate during the Gap Fire in July. “We thought it wise to gather up our photos and a few important papers and our dogs, the stuff that’s important.

“It’s roaring this way,” she said at 10 p.m.

Six miles away, anxious Montecito residents were getting a similar feeling. Winds gusting to 60 mph were whipping the blaze above Rattlesnake Canyon, providing an uncomfortable view of 30-foot flames leaping toward the Tea Fire burn area, albeit high on the mountainside above Sycamore Canyon and Parma Park. Late Thursday, Montecito was enduring sustained winds above 40 mph and temperatures in the upper 80s. Just before 1 a.m. Friday, temperatures abruptly fell 10 degrees as the winds rose to a higher elevation. By 2 a.m., the worst of the wind appeared to be subsiding.

The eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire burns along the ridgeline above Montecito's Tea Garden, which was the point of origin of November's devastating Tea Fire.
The eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire burns along the ridgeline above Montecito’s Tea Garden, which was the point of origin of November’s devastating Tea Fire. (Will Macfadyen / Noozhawk photo)

The fire ignited at 1:50 p.m. Tuesday in the Cathedral Peak area above San Roque Canyon. The fire’s cause remains under investigation, and authorities are asking anyone with information to call the county’s confidential tip line at 805.686.5074.

Most schools, public and private, were closed Friday. Westmont College, whose campus was devastated in the Tea Fire, was successfully evacuated Friday just as commencement weekend was getting under way. Baccalaureate will take place at 5 p.m. Friday at SBCC’s La Playa Stadium, which also will host commencement at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Residents near Dos Pueblos High School, 7266 Alameda Ave., were warned to expect noise and overflights as helicopters refill from an operations base on the campus.

A day after declaring a state of emergency for the Santa Barbara area, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday expressed support for the fire-scarred community and said federal dollars would soon be available to help with the blaze.

Because of Schwarzenegger’s declaration, the county now has access to a FEMA fire management-assistance grant, which means 75 percent of response costs can be drawn from the federal government. As of Thursday night, those costs had reached $1.8 million, officials said.

Schwarzenegger called the Jesusita Fire “a great challenge” because of the high winds plaguing containment efforts and the lack of easy access to the steep terrain in which it’s burning. Adding to the volatility are fuel sources that haven’t burned in nearly 50 years.

“We will be there for you, 100 percent,” said Schwarzenegger, who expressed sorrow that South Coast residents had to endure another destructive wildfire so close to last year’s Tea and Gap fires.

He commended the work of the crews battling the blaze, and said he would be in touch with those firefighters who were injured in the cause.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with them so that they can recuperate as quickly as possible,” he said. “We need them.”

Officials said 11 firefighters had been injured, including three Ventura County firefighters who were burned when they sheltered in a house during a firestorm. They were reported in good condition Thursday night at Grossman Burn Center in Sherman Oaks but two will need skin grafts and surgery.

At the crowded news conference at the Jesusita Fire operations base at Earl Warren Showgrounds, Schwarzenegger was asked about firefighting jobs that could be cut if voters approved the slate of budget-related initiatives on the May 19 special election ballot. He responded that public safety would always be his priority, but that even vital programs must face up to spending cuts.

“It’s very clear that if the initiatives fail, there will be $16 billion less than what’s available,” he said. “But I will fight for every dollar to make sure we have enough engines and manpower and helicopters to fight these fires.”

The May 19 ballot contains six measures proposed by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature. The package deal is part of an effort to close perennially cash-strapped California’s $42 billion budget shortfall.

Addressing a Santa Barbara news conference before touring the Jesusita Fire area Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to
Addressing a Santa Barbara news conference before touring the Jesusita Fire area Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vowed to “fight for every dollar to make sure we have enough engines and manpower and helicopters to fight these fires.” (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Late Thursday, the American Red Cross-Santa Barbara County Chapter announced that its emergency shelter at Dos Pueblos High had reached its capacity and that a second shelter has been opened at the UCSB Multiactivity Center on Ocean Road off Highway 217. The Dos Pueblos shelter had 110 people stay overnight Wednesday, with another 30 people sleeping in their cars in the school’s parking lot. Click here for more information or call 805.687.1331.

Although no problems have been reported with the evacuations, Santa Barbara police Capt. Frank Mannix said officers had stopped several “curiosity seekers,” and he reminded the public that entering an area under evacuation is a misdemeanor.

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, at Pueblo and Bath streets, and Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, 351 S. Patterson Ave., were operating normally and are unaffected by the fire or the evacuation orders.

The county’s Calle Real campus — which is in the mandatory evacuation area and is home to the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, Public Health and Social Services departments and other agencies — was closed Friday. Employees were working from home and public services were not available.

A large animal evacuation center is open at Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real. Small animals should be taken to the county Animal Shelter, 5473 Overpass Road. As of Thursday afternoon, the Santa Barbara Humane Society shelter, 5399 Overpass Road, was full.

The next official news conference is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday. The city of Santa Barbara has set up public information kiosks at four locations:

» Paseo Nuevo

» Loreto Plaza, State Street and Las Positas Road

» Scolari’s Market, 222 N. Milpas St.

» Lazy Acres, 302 Meigs Road

A fifth kiosk is located at 1400 East Valley Road in Montecito.

Click here to sign up for Noozhawk’s free daily e-Bulletin.

Click here for a live Jesusita Fire video feed from Make It Work.

Click here for running citizen reports from City2.0.

If you have fire photos to share with Noozhawk, e-mail them to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for a related Noozhawk slide show from the first day of the Jesusita Fire. Click here for a related Noozhawk slide show from the second day of the fire. Click here for a related Noozhawk slide show from the third day of the fire.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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